The recent turmoil that has consumed the House of Representatives does not bode well for the GOP’s claim to governance. With possession of both chambers of Congress after the 2014 election, the Republican Party was given the opportunity to show that it could govern and pass legislation instead of saying no to everything.
The crisis over the next Speaker of the House illustrates the deep fissures in the Republican Party that can derail their electoral chances in 2016.
Before the Tea Party, the Republican Party had done well in balancing the voices of its two wings: the pro-business wing and the conservative wing. The rise of the Tea Party had created a divide within the party.
On one side are the moderate to center-right Republicans that favored compromises, such as Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar and Speaker John Boehner. On the other side is the Tea Party, filled with ideological crusaders that think compromise means surrender. Their ranks include figures like Sen. Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann.
Speaker Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell may have a party majority in both chambers, but the Tea Party members take any opportunity to stand up against the party leadership to prove their point.
Speaker Boehner had worked to keep the Tea Party placated in order to pass important legislation crucial to the function of the government. His resignation has opened a Pandora’s box and the Tea Party will raise a ruckus if the new Speaker does not pass their litmus test. The House GOP has to reassert control over the Tea Party before their ideological crusades hold the party at ransom.
Now a party civil war would not be a big deal if it occurred during a legislative lame duck period. The problem is that this GOP civil war is occurring right before government funding and the debt ceiling expire.
When the funding expires, it means the government shuts down. People who celebrate a government shutdown forget the economic implications, such as people not getting their paychecks and being able to contribute to the economy through spending said paychecks.
The debt ceiling debate is far more grim. Failure to raise the debt ceiling amounts to the United States defaulting on its debt. A U.S. default would wreck the country’s rating and send the international economy into turmoil. These two shocks would do more harm to the United States’ fragile economy than the housing bubble burst that caused the Great Recession.
Raising the debt ceiling in the past was never a controversial issue. Under the Reagan administration, the ceiling was raised more than five times. If the Tea Party wants to make an ideological fight over the debt ceiling, they are playing with fire.
The upheavals in the House of Representatives has brought into light the deep fissures within the Republican Party. With a divided party going into crucial debates that affect the economic security of the country, the Republican Party has to tread carefully.
Allowing the Tea Party to take up an ideological crusade on the debt ceiling has the possibility of damaging the party. Trying to blame Obama when it was Congress’s job to secure the nation’s credit will not fly over well with the American people. The GOP brand will be as damaged as it was in 1932 with the Great Depression in full swing, leaving the door open for the Democrats in 2016.
Moving forward, the GOP has three options. They can try to restore the balance between their two wings. They can expel the Tea Party as being too extremist to govern. They can become more like the Tea Party and drive the moderates and pro-business voters into the Democratic Party. It has been over 30 years since the last great realigning election, so it might be high time for a major realignment for the GOP.
As a historian, I have to say it is sad to see the GOP go from the party of Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller that build up America to the Tea Party that would hold the country’s credit and economy at ransom, just to prove an ideological point.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch. Contact Hunter Balczo at firstname.lastname@example.org.